The latest installment of George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away series is an overlong but exciting film that relies less on the nostalgia of the franchise than The Force Awakens did, but is mired in a whole slew of new problems. The Last Jedi picks up right where the last part of the story left us – new heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) handing a lightsaber back to original trilogy hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Across the universe, the rebellion, led by the hardened General Leia (dearly departed Carrie Fisher) is on the run from a First Order attack. And the weakest aspect of the entire film is that very little happens beyond that. The last hour though is an amazing ride that is as thrilling as any sequence in the franchise.
There are some really great moments in the movie. In fact, everyone gets at least one moment worthy of applause. That one of the best scenes belongs to Laura Dern’s minor character Vice Admiral Holdo is one of the confounding things about the film. It was pretty fucking cool, but was it good or bad? I don’t know. And Leia has a truly big moment that was oh-so-right from a storytelling point of view, but oh-so-wrong in the bad CGI that delivered it. Rey and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) complex connection is explored in an interesting way, and the movie sets up the expectation of delivering one story, but interestingly sidesteps that. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t get the story I was expecting, but was also conflicted on the reasons why. There’s a truly awful and completely unnecessary segment in the middle, which is akin to Episode I’s pod-racing. But all that aside, once the story kicks into high gear, it is nothing short of fascinating.
Writer-Director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) was an interesting choice to helm this installment. He has since been handed an entirely separate trilogy set in the Star Wars universe, and I’m not sure how to feel about that. He did great balancing the large canvas, playing the new and old characters effectively, and opening the opportunity for what a Star Wars movie can be. But he also made some poor choices, and peppered his script with jokes that really skewed the tone of the movie. But man, did he stick the landing.
With nary a line in the last installment, Hamill is really the heart of this movie, even as a secondary character. While his character may be off for some, expecting the same idealistic champion we knew thirty some years ago, I loved the Skywalker evolution. He’s essentially become Yoda, a curmudgeonly jokester reluctantly forced into a teacher role, and Hamill has never been better. Fisher too, is more thoughtful and intense force (sorry) than she was in her phoned-in Awakens performance. It’s an unfortunate swan song for her, but she at least ends the franchise on a strong note.
As the new kids, and those bearing the weight of the franchise’s future, Ridley and Driver have commanding screen presences and strong characters. Not quite the same for Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), who will each need more development if we’re expected to follow them. Newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is promising, even if she’s saddled with an unfortunately uninteresting Star Wars name. As villain Hux, Domhnall Gleeson is a bit too snide and whiny. Supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis of course) is legitimately terrifying, but still lacks a worthy backstory.
Story issues aside, the movie is a great big-screen adventure, and despite the slow-moving first third, there’s barely time to catch your breath in the last hour, and ending with impact often makes some early mistakes more forgivable.
My Grade – B